Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Short Stuff

Upon us are the humid summer days when the rains come at dusk. The cloudbursts seldom last more than an hour or two – sometimes only minutes. The drumming of raindrops on the roof is too pleasant to drown out with squawking from the TV and radio. There is little more satisfying at such a time than sitting on couch and reading a book. Lengthy tomes are not suitable. The rain will end soon and there are other uses for a clear summer night. Long works can await on the bedstand for later. Ideally a book for the dusk can be read during a single downpour – two at most. Below are three.

**** **** 

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (62 pages) by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman writes scifi in the broadest sense of the term, sometimes strictly as prose and sometimes as graphic novels. His novel American Gods is currently being adapted for TV. How to Talk to Girls at Parties is not a textbook for shy boys, as the title suggests, but a comic book adaptation of one of Neil’s short stories.

In the 1970s the underage teen boys Enn and Vic go looking for a party in London. Enn lives in Vic’s shadow. Vic is handsome, personable, and a star with the ladies while Enn is introverted and at a loss for words with girls. They find a party and it is full of beautiful young women. It turns out not to be the particular one for which they were looking. Whether it is the Wrong party with a capital “W” or Right with a capital “R”, however, is a matter of perspective, for the women are not who, or even what, they seem to be.  The tale is a marvelous metaphor for the mystery of women to clueless young men – especially those (I can relate to this) from a boys-only prep school. If the boys flee will they save themselves or miss an irreplaceable opportunity to hear the full siren song?

Good stuff, soon to be a movie starring Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman.

**** **** 

African Diary (49 pages) by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson writes acidly humorous books on almost every imaginable subject but is most famous for his travelogues. By far the shortest of these is African Diary. The reason for brevity is not the subject matter but Bryson’s reason for writing the book and meeting the deadline for it: “I don’t know if you are fully aware of it, but in acquiring this slender volume you didn’t actually buy a book. You made a generous donation to a worthy cause [CARE] and got a free book in return, which isn’t quite the same thing.”

Bryson writes of his trip to Kenya at the invitation of CARE. Nairobi, he tells us, is like Omaha: “yet another modern city with traffic lights and big buildings and hoardings advertising Samsung televisions and the like.” Africa asserts itself, however, at the city limits where the slums that don’t officially exist begin. He tells us of trains through the countryside, small aircraft and bush pilots, urban and rural culture, the remnants of colonialism, and the refugee camp where CARE helps but not too much. Why not too much? If life for refugees is better than life for the locals the perverse effect is to encourage everyone to become a refugee – not a good thing long-term. It also makes the local residents hostile.

As in all Bryson’s books, the prose is colorful, the descriptions descriptive, and the humor biting. Not the tourist’s Kenya, but worth the trip.

**** **** 

The Mystery of Irma Vep (73 pages) by Charles Ludlam

The 1980s were a wonderfully inventive time for off-Broadway productions in New York including the likes of Little Shop of Horrors, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom (not quite what it sounds like), Psycho Beach Party, and The Mystery of Irma Vep. I saw the Ridiculous Theatrical Company production of The Mystery of Irma Vep in 1984 in the company of a young woman named Jeri. Things didn’t work out with Jeri, but they did with the play, which I saw a second time before it closed. “Irma Vep,” some might note, is an anagram of “vampire.”

Spoofs of horror stories with vampires, mummies, ghosts, and werewolves are almost as old as the horror genre itself (viz. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), but this is definitely one of the better ones. It doesn’t miss a trick, right down to the supposedly deceased first wife imprisoned in a secret basement cell. Moreover, the entire play is done by two quick-change actors playing all the parts. (A condition of performing the play is that the two actors be of the same sex, though it doesn’t matter which.) This leads to a deliberately awkward moment when Lady Enid, speaking to Jane, demands to see a third character.

“JANE: Nicodemus can’t come, Lady Enid. For obvious reasons.”

Not all plays transfer well to the page, but when I saw The Mystery of Irma Vep offered on Amazon in book form, I ordered it. The play transfers fine, though I still recommend seeing it first if that is possible.

The question raised even by good-natured silliness as this is what the ongoing appeal of mummies, vampires, and werewolves might be. An answer is offered in the text.

“LORD EDGAR: Irma could never accept the idea of death and decay. She always was seeking consolation in the study of spiritualism and reincarnation.”

Better life as a vampire than none at all is the point. I see that point but I don’t think I could deal with the dietary restrictions. I don’t even like blood pudding. I’ll stick to living on, if at all, in memory.

Stevie Lange – Remember


  1. I've enjoy Gaiman. I was a big fan of Sandman as well as some of his other comics, and some of his prose novels are interesting too. I think they are working on a New Gods movie. I met him at a comic con and he was friendly and talkative. You can't beat that.

    The book on Kenya sounded interesting too.

  2. Gaiman's output is creative, fanciful, and frequently thoughtful. I hope you got an autograph on something.

  3. Autograph, yes, I did. :) I miss the old cons that were more about comics or SF books and less about cosplay or movie stars who want to charge you for their autographs.